Tim Hudak's campaign mantra that Progressive Conservatives are the only ones who will defend hardworking taxpayers was derailed Friday by revelations that a high-profile Tory is embroiled in a long-running tax dispute.
After making his economic pitch to a Toronto business audience, Hudak came to the defence of rural Conservative Randy Hillier, who reportedly owes about $15,000 in unpaid taxes to the Canada Revenue Agency.
The Tory leader said he hasn't spoken to Hillier since the tax squabble went public, but party officials have been in touch with him.
"Randy is negotiating the payment for those taxes as we speak, so it will be taken care of," Hudak said after a speech to the Economic Club of Canada.
"He assured us that he is negotiating a settlement for those taxes."
Hudak brushed off suggestions that Hillier's dispute may have undermined the Tories' campaign message of defending families who "play by the rules," but wouldn't say if he'll dump the rural activist.
"I'm satisfied that Randy will be good to his word in negotiating a payment for those taxes," he said.
Liberal campaign co-chair Kathleen Wynne called the Tories "hypocrites."
"If Tim Hudak were a real leader he would tell his senior caucus member to pay his back taxes now," she said in an emailed statement.
CTV News obtained documents from the provincial land registry that shows the government placed two liens on property owned by Hillier and his wife more than a year ago.
One of the liens is $9,017 while the other is for $5,863.
"A few years after the sale of some property owned by my wife, a dispute arose with the Canada Revenue Agency on the amount of tax related to the sale," Hillier said in a statement late Thursday.
"There is still an outstanding amount owing by my wife. My wife has engaged with CRA and working to reach a settlement and expects this matter to be resolved very soon."
Hillier, who is seeking re-election in the eastern Ontario riding of Lanark Frontenac Lennox and Addington, is no stranger to controversy.
The self-described libertarian and past president of the Lanark Landowners Association was accused of working against longtime Tory Norm Sterling by campaigning for another candidate for the party's nomination.
Sterling, represented an Ottawa-area riding for 34 years, lost the nomination to Jack MacLaren and complained that the party did nothing while Hillier helped his friend defeat him.
The nomination battle also angered former premier Ernie Eves, who warned that a "few individuals" were trying to bring Tea Party-style politics to the province.